I want to See Vous Play, s'il vous plait.
I'll be the first to admit it: I, Panthea Lee, am a shoddy Canadian. I really couldn't care less whether the Maple Leafs make the playoffs this year. (Hockey season is starting this week...right?) I think the beaver is, frankly, kinda dopey lookin'. (What's up with those teeth?) I turn my nose up at Tim Horton's in favour of java from the Seattle-based multinational we all love to hate. (Sorry, the double-double just doesn't cut it.) And, to add the ultimate insult to injury, I opt for pizza, not poutine, as my 3am drunk food of choice. (Colis!)
But, gosh darn it, I do love my Canadian bands and I most certainly have a soft spot for the CBC. In fact, CBC Radio 3 rocks my itty bitty world. And not just because, being the mature 23-year-old I am, I still snicker at New Music Canada's tagline, "Put it in your ear."
Sunday night's See Vous Play show brought four Canadian acts to the Kool Haus for a most excellent free show. Presented in part with Bande Ă Part as part of UNESCO's International Music Day, the bill boasted a mĂŠlange of genres and language.
"We wanted to do a show on as many different platforms as we could to draw as large and as diverse an audience as possible," explained Steve Pratt, Director of CBC Radio 3. "We wanted a mix of artists so that there's a discovery aspect. Come for an English band, discover a French one. Or come for a French band, discover an English one. Come for one band and discover another one or three that you like. That's how we do our radio show--that's the format we follow and so we wanted to bring that to the live event."
Montreal's Les Breastfeeders opened the night and, Jesus hell, they blew me away. It's music you just can't help but get excited about. Frenzied, take-no prisoners rock that happily indulges its penchants for both syrupy pop and stomping garage. Les Breastfeeders have a knack for ending each of their short ballads--which, for the record, are dangerously catchy--unexpectedly on the up, leaving you mid-ass shake and desperately wanting more.
Luc Brien's gravelly voice led the march of the power rock sextet while clawing away at his guitar. Sharing vocals duties was Suzie McLelove, who offered sweet, staccato singing that pops. Talented lead guitarist Sunny Duval ripped through riffs like it ain't no thang, and his thrashtastic solo during "A Ira" was truly something else.
Clad in a white fun fur vest and skin(too)tight black pants, tambourine man Johnny Maldoror stole the show. Every so often, the kablooey rock star would cease his, uhm, interpretative prancing just long enough to shimmy up to the mic and let out a gentle, coy meow.
Emily Haines and The Soft Skeleton followed as the second act, and demanded a complete shift of pace. Haines was my main motivation for attending See Vous Play, and her gorgeous set did not disappoint. The enigmatic Haines crooned to a hushed audience, her voice slithering its way through song after shimmering song; and the crowd cozied up under the resulting aural blanket, melancholy and warm.
The Soft Skeleton's chorus of weeping strings during "Dr. Blind" proved a perfect match for Haines' crushed velvet vocals. During "The Lottery", they ruminated over her words with each stroke of the bow. Muted horns lent elegant depth to several tracks.
It's impossible to take your eyes off Emily Haines when she's onstage. Seated at her piano, she wore a pained expression, personifying fragility on the verge of crumbling. The seeming disconnect between the emotion-laden lyrics and the controlled, restrained physical presence of Haines is alluring. Her voice, textured like coarse sugar, soothes. Her passion-heavy words, oft-shielded by a deceptively vacuous visage, mesmerizes.
The third act of the night, Les Trois Accords--well, I wish I could say what they were like, but I left halfway through the first song. Obnoxious in demeanor--the lead singer seemed to be channeling Derek Zoolander--and unoriginal in repertoire, these guys would be better suited for a Battle of the Bands at the local Y rather than a showcase of Canadian talent at the Kooh Haus. I hate to write bands off after minimal exposure, so I popped my head back in a few more times during their set and, sure enough, meh.
Being a Sunday night, the crowd had thinned during the set change after Haines and the ensuing noise...err, band, didn't help either. At 11:30, East Coast darlings The Joel Plaskett Emergency came on to a considerably downsized crowd. Yet, of all the acts, they definitely had the highest concentration of actual fans in the audience. (Hey, you gotta really want to see Joel Plaskett to hang around and endure Les Trois Accords).
Writhing his way around his guitar, lanky, boy-next-door type Plaskett won me over with his sweet natural charm and casual between-song banter. Witty, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, coupled with slick guitar work and original instrumentation (harmonica and tenor guitar anyone?), create a sound that gets to your heart and tugs the corners of your mouth way up. Plaskett plays up his Canadian roots in his tunes--hell, even Kelowna got a nod--and fans eat it up. This is ambling, happy, sing-along Can-rock at its laidback best.
The dual language format worked surprisingly well, but Toronto's notoriously stoic crowds threw off the French bands. Hey, you can't blame them for expecting an audience that, at the very least, has a pulse.
"During the show, we were thinking, 'do they like us?'" laughs Luc Brien of Les Breastfeeders post-set. After being assured that, yes, they were indeed well-received and, no, the reaction (or lack thereof) probably had more to do with it being a Toronto crowd rather than the fact the set was en francais, Brien grins. Language is no barrier for these Quebecois, who have played to many a welcoming crowd south of the border.
"Very often, I think that the English press understands us better than the French press. In English, rock and rock was around all the time. In French, it disappeared for a while," notes Brien. In his opinion, rock in La Belle Province has been overshadowed by folk music in the recent past. If, however, the night's set was any indication of how super fantastique French rock can be, this Anglo is definitely jumping on the bandwagon. Or prendre le train en marche, if you will.
Pre-show, I overheard an excited Breastfeeders fan had tried to prepare some uninitiated friends for the act to come, exclaiming, "They're like The Hives, but in French!"
Upon hearing the comparison, Brien wrinkles his nose. "We're like Leonard Cohen, but in French," he protests. Then he pauses. "No, wait, we're like French Bob Dylan." My eyebrows rise. You sure? We can quote you on that? "Yes," Brien smiles, "Bob Dylan."
Heh. Cohen and Dylan, eh? It's a bit of a stretch but, then again, who am I, a measly Starbucks-loving, poutine-dissin' Canuck, to argue with one of the country's latest and greatest rock acts?
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